DeLTA Project


DeLTA: Department and Leadership Teams for Action

Project Summary:

The DeLTA project involves more than 100 faculty over five years in transforming undergraduate STEM education at UGA from the status quo toward new commitments, such as basing educational decisions on evidence. DeLTA will impact UGA at every level – courses, departments, and the institution – and will generate new knowledge on change in higher education that can be applied by other institutions.

Overview and Objectives:

Important national problems mandate radical changes in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) instruction: the STEM workforce is insufficient to meet the projected demands of the U.S. economy (Olson and Riordan, 2012) and the diversity of the STEM workforce does not represent national diversity, resulting in a lost opportunity for innovative problem solving (National Academy of Sciences et al., 2010). While teaching-intensive institutions have embraced instructional change, Research 1 (R1) institutions have been more recalcitrant. Changing instruction requires fundamental shifts in the thinking and actions of faculty, departments, and administrators (Corbo et al., 2016; Dennin et al., 2017; Pallas et al., 2017). Addressing these problems requires departments—where most of the educational business of an R1 university takes place—to make new commitments to undergraduate education. To improve the future prospects of the STEM workforce, STEM departments need to adopt new core commitments (Corbo et al., 2016):

Core Commitments in Undergraduate Education to Improve the Future STEM Workforce
1.     Design educational experiences to achieve clear and measurable learning outcomes
2.     Base education decisions on evidence, including students’ conceptions, capabilities, and attitudes
3.     Actively collaborate and communicate about undergraduate education
4.     Foster continuous teaching improvement
5.     Promote inclusion and diversity

Institutions must question their assumptions, values, and beliefs about teaching and learning to move beyond the status quo. Change of this nature is referred to as second-order change (Argyris and Schon, 1996; Kezar 2014; Corbo et al., 2016) because of its deep and transformational nature (Kezar, 2014). First-order change, which involves isolated individual-level adjustments, fails to disrupt the status quo (Argyris and Schon, 1996; Kezar, 2014). Second-order change is driven by changes in thinking and culture (Kezar, 2014; Corbo et al., 2016). The lackluster impact of many STEM education change efforts can be attributed largely to hopeful yet insufficient efforts to change individual courses (Henderson et al., 2011). Additionally, reform efforts have done little to help R1 stakeholders grasp the significance of the misalignment between current teaching practices and data on student learning and success, or to promote organizational learning that can lead to shifts in departmental and university processes and rewards necessary to promote and sustain change (Senge, 2003; Borrego and Henderson, 2014). There is an urgent need for R1 institutions to attempt second-order change in STEM education and to conduct research on the individual and organizational learning that occurs throughout the change process. If this need remains unaddressed, R1 institutions will be poorly positioned to respond to the national needs that threaten U.S. economic growth, security, and wellbeing.

In response, we propose a 5-year project to lead and research DeLTA, Departmental and Leadership Teams for Action, an initiative designed to promote comprehensive second-order change in undergraduate STEM education among faculty, departments, and upper administrators at the University of Georgia (UGA). Informed primarily by the social cognition and cultural theories of change (Kezar, 2014; Corbo et al., 2016), we will create and support action teams that operate at the faculty, department, and administrative levels of the university. A 13-member investigative team will facilitate the work of these teams. The investigative team, which consists of tenure-stream faculty in eight departments in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, and College of Education, will operate via collective leadership (Kezar, 2014), distributing leadership to the team rather than to a single, heroic individual. Throughout this process we will investigate: To what extent do individual and organizational thinking and actions develop toward STEM education reform?

Specific Objectives:

We will accomplish this work by achieving the following specific objectives:

  1. Create and support Instructional Action Teams (IATs) to expand the use of evidence-based teaching practices in introductory courses across STEM. IATs will identify key concepts and practices that should be taught in their discipline. They will align their teaching with these concepts and practices by creating and implementing assessments and active-learning instructional materials and by examining exemplar materials and data on student thinking. This model of teaching professional development is based on effective elements of the HHMI National Academies Summer Institute and the Looking at Student Work approach to professional development. Three IAT cohorts will be active during the project, involving a total of 84 faculty.
  2. Create and facilitate a Leadership Action Team (LAT) to develop and enact new ways of supporting, evaluating, incentivizing, and rewarding evidence-based teaching at the department level. Leaders from 12 STEM units will meet regularly to reconsider department policies and practices related to undergraduate education. They will work to recognize assumptions (i.e., implicit thinking) about teaching and learning that underlie department policies and that do not align with the core commitments, and to revise them toward better alignment. The LAT will be active throughout the project, focusing on different issues and allowing for changes in leadership over time.
  3. Create Strategic Action Teams (SATs) to work opportunistically to align university incentive structures with the core commitments. We will leverage invitations from the Deans’ and Provost’s Offices to participate in revising the (1) teaching evaluation system, (2) promotion and tenure (P&T) guidelines for documenting teaching contributions, and (3) processes for allocating instructional resources. Different SATs will be active at different times, as described in Objective 3 below.
  4. Investigate thinking and actions relevant to STEM education among faculty, departments, and the administration. We will study the extent to which DeLTA increases the possibility for ongoing reform at UGA. We will investigate shifts in thinking and actions at multiple levels because second-order change requires shifts in thinking, leads to new behaviors, and must occur at multiple levels (Argyris and Schon, 1996; Ford and Foster-Fishman, 2012; Kezar, 2014; Bouwma-Gearhart et al., 2016). This research will occur throughout the project to allow for longitudinal study.
Strategies for Accomplishing Project Goals:

This project approaches change from multiple theoretical perspectives at multiple levels of the university. Using social cognition theory, faculty will create and implement active-learning materials and assessments. Using cultural theory, departmental leaders will reconsider their underlying assumptions about undergraduate education. The research on DeLTA will answer the overarching research question: To what extent do individual and organizational thinking and actions develop toward STEM education reform? Longitudinal data will be collected from all action team participants. Data sources will include interviews, surveys, teaching observations, course-based assessments, audio-recordings of action team meetings, and artifacts revealing departmental and university policies. All data will be analyzed according to standard qualitative and quantitative protocols.

Measuring Success:

We will be working with a program evaluator to determine the extent to which our program hits its milestones.

Dissemination Plan:

Publicity through UGA and local news sources.
Publications in education research journals
Participation in institutional change networks
Presentation at national conferences focused on institutional change or education research and policy

In the News

STEM education faculty

Faculty from several units will take part in the Department and Leadership Teams for Action, or DeLTA, project as part of a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to help students develop STEM knowledge and skills. (Photo credit: Dorothy Kozlowski)

Partners (Team Members):

Malcolm Adams (Mathematics)
Tessa Andrews (Genetics)
Robert Baffour (Engineering)
Kelly Black (Mathematics)
Peggy Brickman (Plant Biology)
Erin Dolan (Biochemistry)
Suzanne Ellenberger (Chemistry)
Jennifer Kaplan (Statistics)
Paula Lemons (Biochemistry)
Julie Luft (Math and Science Education)
Patricia Moore (Entomology)
Ramana Pidaparti (Engineering)
Craig Wiegert (Physics)